Jesus And The Hysterical Historians

I love history.

And I hate it.

A few weeks ago, I took my family to Stone Mountain. We made the mile or so hike up the mountain, ate dinner on the grass in front of the mountain, watched the laser show where some kid named Johnny defeated the Devil in a fiddle contest, and complained about traffic on our way home.

We follow that same routine every year.

And every year I give my kids the same speech.

If you’ve never been to Stone Mountain, it’s hard to miss. It’s a giant chunk of granite in Atlanta with a carving of leaders of the Confederacy on it. Every year, my kids ask about the men engraved on that mountain.

Here’s a paraphrase of what I usually say.

“All you need to know about those men and any other person you see memorialized in an engraving or statue is that they aren’t God.”

It would do us good to hear that simple speech a few times a day. Maybe then we wouldn’t be so prone to worship men and identify with woefully imperfect movements.

I love history because I like knowing how we got to where we are. It’s fascinating.

I hate history because I don’t really like hearing about how we got to where we are. It’s often brutal.

I love history because I like learning about regular men and women who did amazing things. It’s inspiring.

I hate history because I’ve grown tired of those regular men and women being treated as gods. It’s hysterical.

What I am about to say is going to sound like something a preacher would say. Forgive me.

The more I study historical figures and movements, the more I am convinced that Jesus is enough. That goes double for contemporary figures and movements.

Dig deep enough into the life of any human being and you will find a mess. A real mess. So we shouldn’t be asking ourselves whether or not we need to remove certain statues and engravings. Rather, we should ask ourselves why we put them up in the first place. And when we’re done with that line of questioning, we should wonder why we choose to identify with them. If we’re honest, the answer has more to do with idolatry than legacy or heritage.

I was born and raised in a southern state that I love but I’m no apologist for slavery.

I’ve been a Christian for most of my life and I am the product of a conservative church where the Bible was taught faithfully. Now I am the pastor of a conservative church where I try to preach the Bible faithfully. But I don’t consider myself an Evangelical. Today, that term has more to do with a voting bloc than it does the body of Christ so no thanks.

I’m a proponent of an extremely limited government. But I just don’t have the stomach to call myself a Libertarian and certainly not a Republican. And when I come across someone who wants universal healthcare, I prefer not to look at them as an enemy. I’d rather view them as a human being I happen to disagree with but who has great worth because they have been created in the image of God. Sometimes my heart wants to go another direction but I’m a work in progress.

My skin is white. Well, that’s what we call it but it looks nothing like the pages in the book next to me as I write this. Either way, that’s not where I find my worth. I have no interest in the Richard Spencer’s of the world who want to use the power of the government to supposedly restore our European heritage. My two sons have Filipino blood running through their veins and I’m proud of it. My great grandmother’s blood was all Cherokee. If anyone wants to talk about preserving heritage it should have been her. But that doesn’t preach well to the crowd that wants to restore this country’s “European heritage.”

Hang on a minute, I’m about to say something else that sounds preachy.

The only cleansing I care about is the kind that comes from the blood of Jesus Christ. Every other human being who made a historic stand against something, even the great ones, to some degree became what they fought against. Through either compromise or a moral compass that never was really set to begin with, even our best heroes are very unworthy of our granite carvings, statues and worship. Not so with Jesus, he touched the untouchable and remained clean. He stood against the great Accuser and remained perfectly holy.

The more I study history, the more my love hate relationship with it grows.

I hate it for how dirty it is.

But I love it for how it serves to highlight the supremacy of Jesus Christ over all other men and movements.

I’ve never gotten a call from a pollster. But if I ever do and they ask me if I’m a Caucasian, evangelical, southern, Libertarian who likes to visit Stone Mountain once a year, at the risk of sounding too preachy, I’ll just tell them that I’m an imperfect follower of the only perfect man who ever lived.

Any other label would just be hysterical.

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Great News About Your Health

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Chances are that you are a bad athlete. No school has ever paid for your tuition so that you would play a sport for them. You’re not in any hall of fame.

But maybe you really are a good athlete. Perhaps even an elite athlete. You can lift more weight than most people. You’re running a lot of miles. Your pants are getting looser.

Those are all good things. But good things tend to come with slippery slopes. This one is no different.

That’s why you should just give up.

Not on your diet, your weight-training or your goal of running a half-marathon. Keep doing them. Enjoy them and the benefits that they bring.

Just stop putting your identity in how well you did in the Work Out of the Day. You are not your athletic ability. You are not your box jumps. You are not your dead lift personal record. You are not defined by your waistline. When we forget those things, we are on the slippery slope. When we place our identity in our ability, we are speeding down that slope to a cliff of well-intentioned self-destruction.

You can always do more.

Your last best accomplishment was not enough.

Those are the hard realities you will have to live with on a daily basis if you allow yourself to believe that you are your athletic ability or the number you see on the scale. And, if you’re not careful, your doing more and trying harder can quickly become your god. Unlike the real God who moves toward his people through his Son (Matthew 1:23; James 4:7-8) this god always keeps his subjects at a distance.

Even still, worship services are held in honor of this god throughout the week at gyms, boxes and on scales.  His sacraments are diet and exercise. There is no grace. There is only guilt.

So listen to Jesus and just quit.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

Jesus doesn’t have a problem with a good diet and exercise. In fact, he likes those things. They are two very good ways to take care of the body that he has given to you. But they only go so far.

For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:8 (ESV)

Your lower blood pressure, smaller waist and nice form on your overhead press are of value to you and others. The Bible says it. But their value is limited, lasting only for this life. And then you die. People with six pack abs and a three and a half hour marathon time still go to hell.

People who have been told that they are overweight and who struggle to make it up a flight of stairs can still enjoy the approval of God. That’s because, no matter what we can or cannot bring to the table, God’s enjoyment of us has nothing to do with our spiritual, academic or physical resume. It is solely because of his grace and it can only be realized through repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ.

I’m a big fan of CrossFit. I work out at an excellent CrossFit box with great instructors three or four days a week. I usually lift less weight and finish much slower than anyone else in the room. I look nothing like the guys who compete in the CrossFit games on ESPN.

That would be a problem if who I am was defined by what I can do.

But it’s not a problem. That’s because who I am is defined by the One I belong to.

So the next time you feel like a terrible person because you ate a piece of pizza or because you can’t lift 200 pounds over your head, just remember what Jesus really cares about. He’s glad that you’re taking care of yourself.

But he really delights in the fact that you have put your hope and identity in him.

No matter how bad of an athlete you are.

His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. Psalm 147:11 (ESV)

 

That Unwanted Friend Over Your Shoulder

There are a lot of things in life that you can count on. Here are two of them.

First, when playing the game of solitaire someone will always walk up behind you and tell you something that you’re missing. Always.

There you are, playing a relaxing card game on your iPad when someone suddenly appears right behind you. You know what they’re about to say so you become especially cautious, checking to make sure that every card is right. But it happens anyway.

“You missed the ten of hearts up there.”

And a little part of you dies.

The second thing that you can count on is very similar. The only difference is that it involves push-ups instead of cards. Whenever you are doing push-ups someone, perhaps the same person who was infatuated with your card game, will appear from nowhere and tell you that your form is bad. Always.

“You’re not going down far enough.”

And more of you dies.

This is why you should never do push-ups while playing solitaire.

If we’re not careful, social media can be that unwanted friend over our shoulder, reminding us that we’re just not measuring up. It works like this.

Suppose that you’re struggling to get your four-year-old to make it through the night without peeing all over his room when, finally, you experience success. Now you feel like the greatest mom on the planet. Until you find out that one of your friends on Facebook managed to get her kid to quit wetting the bed at the ripe old age of one. And she did it while making her own tomato based tortillas. And completing the Work Out of the Day. Oh, and there are pictures to prove it. So much for that successful feeling you had.

Sorry. You’re just not measuring up.

Or perhaps you are a pastor who is feeling pretty good about the fact that there were three new families at church last Sunday and it’s been a solid week since someone has compared you to Hitler. And then, like that unwanted friend over your shoulder, your Twitter feed knocks you back down a few steps when you read about a pastor who used his church to put an end to world poverty and the infield fly rule. All in one Sunday. All by himself.

Sorry. You’re just not measuring up.

This isn’t a Twitter or Facebook problem. It’s a heart problem. Our heart problem. All because we have set our sights too low and settled for the approval of man instead of the approval of God.

And here’s the thing about the approval of men. It’s never enough. You can always eat a little more organic, preach a little more gospel-centered and parent a little better. And, in one form or another, there’s always that friend over your shoulder there to remind you of that.

That’s yet another reason why the gospel is so liberating. At the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he pretty much came out of the starting block telling us the same message as that unwanted friend over our shoulder.

Sorry. You’re just not measuring up (Romans 3:23; Matthew 1:21).

But Jesus didn’t stop there. Instead of just another critique, he gave grace. He measured up for us (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:6-11). And through faith and repentance, our identity is found in him (Ephesians 2:1-10). Not our child’s bathroom habits. Not our sermons. Not our tomato based tortillas. But in Christ Jesus.

A while back I was playing outside with my son when we heard an airplane. He was looking everywhere to try to find it but he couldn’t. The problem was that he was looking straight ahead, at the trees. Finally, I stood behind him and gently placed one hand on each side of his head. Slowly moving his head up towards the sky I spoke to him.

“Look higher.”

And there it was.

So the next time that unwanted friend over your shoulder starts reminding you that you’re just not as good as all of the other moms or pastors or athletes, maybe you’re not. But look higher. Look to the One whose approval is not based on your performance but on the perfect life, death and resurrection of his Son.

A life that was lived on your behalf.

A death that secured your identity in Christ.

A resurrection that promises that a day is coming when you will finally measure up.

And you can count on that.